Tag Archives: planning

Antang Village Notes

Antang Village is being preserved by local authorities to capture the history and experience of village life in China. It is one of four classified villages in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, to be preserved.

The bronze sculptures told the stories of daily life and are set in intimate courtyards near my mother’s original house. Murals are similar to those in other neighborhoods of Antang shown earlier.

Finding the house location was a challenge as the original house no longer exists. But in classic form, we found an old fellow at the ancestral hall who knew where the house was located.

He agreed to lead us to the site based on the only picture of a wall of the house that I had. The walls of houses and granite paved alleyways provided a sharp contrast to the new artwork installations. These new additions were well integrated with the original village character.

I couldn’t help but think about the Italian village of Matera that Melissa and I had visited in January this year. Its preservation of twin hill towns was inspiring. The planners intend to preserve the environment for 0 impact from tourism while offering commercial opportunities to local villagers. I hope that the Antang planning authority will have the courage, wisdom, and funding to preserve this village in the same meaningful way.

In another moving experience during this trip, my cousin took me to find the gravesite of our ancestors. He goes every year during Ching Ming to clean the site of brush and leaves. For me, it captured the experience of many Chinese throughout time. They made the effort to respect and remember the shoulders of those upon which we stand.

Searching for (Lotus) Roots: Village Visits

House in Bamboo Garden

The Chou Family village home in the once-rural area of Punyu is now consumed by the urban demands of Guangzhou. Located in the Bamboo Garden Village in Bai Yun near the Guangzhou airport, the stately home was originally built in the middle of rice paddies. Through the maze of six to seven-story buildings haphazardly built in the 80’s and 90’s, the narrow alleyways lead to this peaceful oasis.

The house is the oldest remaining home in the village. A few remaining pieces of furniture shown above survived the past. The family residence remains unoccupied, but hopefully its redeeming features will support new life and purpose.

An Tang Village

A search for the Lum Family house in An Tang Village proved to be more challenging. The house no longer exists, but finding the precise location was also elusive. The search demands people, place, and time. Rickety 80’s and 90’s adhoc housing sprinkled throughout the village similar to that found in Bamboo Garden obscure landmarks. Being in a more rural setting, the An Tang Village contained more traditional village houses. This could be related to funding, demand and proximity to an urban area.

We located the home of my mother’s uncle. Adjacent to it was a 20’s era clinic. It reminded me of the contemporary style of Sun Yat Sen’s Residence in Hong Kong. Athough unoccupied, it appears to be a historic building ripe for attention and TLC.

The series of Ancestral Temples made the village visit worthwhile. In addition to the artwork that preserves the legacy of the Lum Family, local street murals scattered throughout the village provided inspiration for its residents.

Foodie Heaven

One could never escape a stay in Guangzhou without being first confronted, then blown away by the exquisite simplicity of flavors and unadulterated freshness of ingredients. The consistency of quality is truly remarkable. Restaurants compete for business. Reputation is everything. Now add innovation and creativity to rival any five-star presentation.

In one restaurant, a huge automated lazy susan brings the food to you. Similar to the sushi boat concept, you barely have to “lift a finger” to get the food to your plate!

Transit Nightmare

Despite the herculean feat of moving teaming masses of humanity, public transit in Guangzhou is still a frightening, mesmerizing, and astounding experience. High speed trains get you from Hong Kong to Guangzhou and other remote areas in less than an hour, buses interconnect to desired locations, and the internet provides information and easy ticket orders.

Nevertheless, the human experience is overwhelming. The length of the new Guangzhou South Railway Station is .6km and it takes nearly 5 minutes to transverse it! (See https://www.railway-technology.com/projects/newguangzhou/

Having worked on the HK Mass Transit Railway when its first line was under construction, I am at a loss at how to improve this situation. This development addresses mankind’s needs and for the time being, it is about as good as it gets.

Teeming humanity
The new Guangzhou South Railway Station is the length of 6 football fields

Day 38-40: Village Development, Zhongshan, China

An exciting San Kai Village development in the outskirts of Shiqi caught me by surprise. The village with unknown entitlements is being developed by private investors as a restaurant and nightlife district. Old vs. new are blended together effectively, with integrated interiors and architectural detail. Lush landscaped courtyards and paths complete the environmental experience. Like most of Southern China, if you put a stick in the ground, it will sprout roots and grow. It’s the tropical world of orchids and passion fruit.

I’ll keep my comments short so you can enjoy the visual beauty of this excellent synthesis of planning, architecture, and interior design.

 

Here’s a bonus gallery of dinner specialties last night, and the roadside fruit stand:

 

Shimmering Shiraz and Perceptions of Persepolis

Tehran

After a few days of jet lag, weather changes, and internet hell, we resparked our curiosity and thirst for the unknown. We visited museums, mosques, and even a madrassah, but no mausoleums yet. The last three m’s were the order of the day for Islamic architecture during my visit to Uzbekistan, but there no indications of that being the same here.

At the Golestan Palace in Tehran, a World Heritage Site, the pre-Pahlavi royalty (within the last 150 years) displayed their wealth and were over-the-top ornate. Most of the public rooms including the ceilings were covered with intricate mirror mosaics and made you feel like you were inside the Hope Diamond.

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Interior with Mirrored Ceilings

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The exteriors demonstrated the integration of gardens and fountains that are
famous in Iranian architecture and design, as well as the intricate mosaic work and marble carving on doors and walls.

The National Museum of Iran contained some of the most precious relics of the ancient world. The statue of Darius I (Xerxes I, from which an opera is based!)  and a panel from the Achaemenid Period in Persepolis are shown below. For those interested, you can scale up the text included in the adjacent photos.

The bazaars in both Tehran and Shiraz contained endless boutiques in a Walmart-sized atmosphere with limited and inexpensive goods from copperware to aromatic spices.

Shiraz

We bonded with our local guide from Shiraz after he passionately described Iran’s native son and poet, Hafez. His elegant poems are beloved by all Iranians and transcend cultures. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Goethe were known to quote his poetry. It was enough for me to determine to read some when I get home.

As we stood in the garden of the tomb of Hafez, Abdullah, our guide, explained that Shiraz is known for its wine, women, and roses. Many of us will recognize the famous wine namesake that comes from this region.

In the evening light, Abdullah pointed out the abundance of young couples strolling in the park, with flowers intoxicating the warm breezes. Knowing a little or a lot about the poetry of Hafez is enough to start amiable conversations and the start of a promising relationship, Abdullah surmises (maybe from experience?)

While Abdullah waxed poetic, we observed that families were out selfying just like any other society, enjoying a delicious evening, and lingering among crowds of friendly visitors.

There seems to be tremendous respect for fellow humans in Iran. So far, we have found the urban environment remarkably quiet. We stayed on busy streets in two cities and found the traffic unusually quiet. Being highly sensitive to noise, I am finding the calm, lack of noise shattering to my ears.

People glide about the streets, smiling at one another with eyes and lips, and salaam each other without exception. I’m not sure our guide has coopted us, but we sense the immense pride and confidence in the people.

Persepolis:

Just outside of Shiraz, on a wide open plain, lies the ceremonial center of Darius. Before him, Cyrus the Great created and led an impressive empire. The wooden ceilings of buildings and both palaces of Darius and his son built around 518 BC were later razed to the ground by Alexander the Great (around 330 BC), but the massive stone structures with priceless carvings remain.

After just having seen the great empires of Rome, Greece, Inca at Macchu Picchu and Aztec in Teotihuacan, it’s hard not to be impressed by the volume and quality of artwork in situ at Persepolis. We could not believe how much of its splendor is still present for the whole world to appreciate.

Were it not from my earliest art history lessons on ancient civilizations and curiosity on its context and meaning, I would not have made this trip.

Everything begins to fall into place, as the pieces of the puzzle assemble. My scant preparation for this trip, thanks to Francopan’s Silk Roads, a New History of the World, captures the whirlwind tour through the rise and fall of Eurasian civilizations. Iran, and more fondly, Persia by the same name, stands prominently at the helm of the Silk Road.

The artwork at Persepolis chronicles the peaceful arrival and acceptance of the local inhabitants to the new ruler. Darius followed shortly after Cyrus (within 40 years), and while not a direct descendant, they were related. Although the local Medians were conquered by Cyrus and the Archimineads, he managed a peaceful settlement and was respected for his accomplishments as a capable ruler. Darius culminated the dynastic rule with his grandiose and impressive complex at Persepolis.

Within the ceremonial entrance and grand reception areas are magnificent stone reliefs of warriors supporting the king on his throne. Rows of roundheaded conquerees alternating with the conquerors proceed to meet the king, hand in hand. Offerings from 23 nations include food, treasures and animals from surrounding areas and those as far as India.

Other friezes demonstrate the high quality of craftsmanship that preceded the Greek and Roman periods revered in history. In a splendid exemplary frieze, a bull and cow signify the end and beginning of the new year.

The symbolic meanings of birds, rings and flowers stem from the ancient monotheistic Zoroastrian and Mithras religions. They did not have a concept of God as a human, but that he lies within each of us.

Individually the symbolism of the characters presented are less significant than the collective splendor of the human mind that is left behind for all of us living creatures today to ponder.

(This post is now formatted as intended. It was created on April 17, 2018 and edited April 22, 2018).

…On State Street, that Great Street, I Just Want to Say…

A return visit to the Chicago Cultural Center, just down the street from State, gave us additional time to devote and absorb the energetic and inspirational Chicago Architectural Biennial submittals from architects around the world.

Here are a few of the three-dimensional models and miniaturization of the world on display:

Here’s a link to the Bamboo House (my favorite model above) if you are interested:
http://archi.ocean-site.com/bamboo.html

And the “Supermodels”, 16′ high models of the 1922 Chicago Tribune competition reinterpreted:

An endless array of aesthetic and architectural textures, patterns and rhythms to explore and adore:

Real World great rooms with views inside and from the Chicago Cultural Center (formerly the Chicago Public Library):

Earlier in the morning, a six hour tour of the S.C. Johnson Wax Research Building and Laboratories in Racine, Wisconsin gave us a glimpse of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s major clients. Johnson produced some of the most prolific household products, including Raid, Deet, Kiwi Shoe Polish, and Pride Furniture Polish. Wingspread, the 14,000 sf private home of S.C. Johnson and the last major residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, was also a featured stop on the tour.

Here are a few of the highlights of the company facilities. We were only allowed to take photos of exteriors of buildings and grounds:

The alien landing of the Company Reception Center was designed by Lord Norman Foster:

Needless to say, everything in the original buildings was meticulously designed by Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, including all details and finishes for flooring, ceiling, walls, and furniture.

At Wingspread, the interior of the private home was also highly controlled by Wright.

He had many disagreements with his client H.C. Johnson and his third wife Irene Purcell, a former Hollywood actress. Although he often tripled the cost of construction, Wright designed and built many quality homes applying his innovative concepts of horizontal lines that blended in with the landscape, use of natural materials, and attention to detail.

The dining table was designed to move on wheels into the servant’s area so staff did not have to be seen by guests. Whenever the roof leaked, the clients and staff often had to bring buckets out to catch the rain.

At an important state dinner held at the Johnson residence on a rainy evening  the roof leaked again, but this time directly on the owner’s bald head at the table. He immediately summoned Wright in Arizona and asked what should be done. Wright simply retorted: “You should move your chair!” Wright’s ego was seldom matched by his clients’.

In the final analysis, Chicago is a must see if: (1) you are contemplating a career in architecture; (2) need to be reminded of why you became one in the first place; and (3) need another fix for the architectural addiction you always had.

Fong & Daughter’s 72-hours in Chicago  achieved our desire for at least two of the three. We also succeeded in pursuing and understanding architecture as craft. I hope you enjoyed traveling here with us on this whirlwindy weekend. Chicago has great streets with great people in a great city.

Day 44-45: Lost Schlosses of Barbarossa and Benrath

Kaiserwerth, just north of Dusseldorf on the Rhine, is the site of the legendary medieval Barbarossa castle. As Emperor, he built these fortifications to control the Rhine River. The town is just a small suburb of Dusseldorf. It’s easy enough for weekend party goers to get to (by public transportation, no less!) and an excuse for drunken brawls at the outdoor beer garden. It was already in full swing by Friday afternoon at 3pm.

The beach and feeder to the Rhine were fun and idyllic spots for local visitors and the historic town of Kaiserwerth made it a refreshing and worthwhile escape from the city.

Schloss Benrath (former residence of Elector Carl Theodor (1724-1799)

On my way out of the city headed south to Schloss Benrath, I continued to be impressed by the public transportation in Germany and how easy it is to get around. I am injecting photos of Schloss Benrath along with my commentary. They don’t have anything to do with each other, but maybe the pictures will help make my thoughts more interesting to read!

Having worked for the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway System in my first job out of graduate school, I became an incorrigible train junkie. I got my “first training wheels” from former British Rail or London Tube engineers. They were making use of their ex-pat junkets in Hong Kong, living a colonial life of luxury at a time that was soon to eclipse. The looming year 1997 was just around the corner, signaling the end of the empire after more than 150 years of dominance.

(note: The Palace was decorated with fabric sculptures as part of a special exhibition.)

Nevertheless, I used the skills the Brits taught me about station design, vent shafts, headways and trip generations. This led to a lifetime pursuit. I enjoy and marvel at all of the planning and logistics needed to run a public transportation system. Transit system design integrated with high density development worked wonders, particularly in Hong Kong, but the concept is no exception in major European cities.

When I get on a local transit system in Germany, I get excited by its sheer beauty and efficiency. Its citizens appreciate and  respect the system so it stays clean. The users, the workers, the managers, the leadership all work for a common goal. There are places for luggage in lieu of seats (see photo) so the upholstery isn’t damaged.  Someone can still sit there if needed. Smart signage says it’s ok to have coffee but you need a cover for it.  (See sticker in the middle of the window).

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Yes, some design forethought can go a bit far. At the Schloss Benrath, I noticed all the “mother” hardware that could probably last 1000 years in place. Forged of hand wrought brass, the hinges are twice the size of the door handle.  It must have been decided that the weight of the door on the hinge produces greater stress than a door handle holding a door in place. Any ideas, engineers in the audience? In any event, it’s different from common practice today. We just replace hinges when they wear out.

On the German speaking tour. I heard a big gasp from the crowd about the size of a corset in the early 18th Century–a mere 46 cm! I’ll let you calculate the conversion.(:))

And at the Schloss outside:  a pretty picture who looked good enough to be a model to me…

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Days 5-8: Dizzyin’ D.C.

The number of museums (all free) in Washington D.C. is staggering, and deciding which ones to visit is a daunting challenge. We decided to each pick one today–and a few off the beaten path. We had already covered the most popular ones in the past with our kids–the National Gallery, the Smithsonian, the National Air and Space.

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First, we headed to the U.S.Holocaust Museum. The featured photo above shows the five-story high atrium of the museum. Photos of Jewish families who perished in the Holocaust were displayed there.  The chain of events leading to the holocaust were many and complex, to say the least.  False evidence blamed the Jews for killing Christ.

Around 1525, Martin Luther initially embraced them. He later turned against them when they refused to convert to Protestantism. It wasn’t until 1994 when the Lutheran church acknowledged Luther’s anti-Semitism.

We primarily think of the Jews from Germany and Austria being sent to camps and killed there. Even more Jewish people from Romania, Poland, Russia and Lithuania were killed. Many were forced to live in ghettos segregating them from mainstream society. However, most Jews living in Italy, Bulgaria and Hungary were spared.

There were chilling graphic depictions of the camps. The arrival of American troops helped to document the horrors before evidence was destroyed. More than half of those who were liberated died within two weeks of being freed. They were already too sick to survive or were unable to digest the food they consumed.

While very sad and sobering, the museum presented an important lesson in history. Similar events could take place again.  This museum teaches us the social, political, and economic circumstances behind such heinous acts and the chain of events that caused the Holocaust. You can learn more about the museum here: https://www.ushmm.org/information/exhibitions/museum-exhibitions/permanent.

In the afternoon, we made our way to the Native American Museum. While the museum is housed in an impressive building, it didn’t reduce the weight of the subject and its history. The many tribes and unions between nations were systematically ignored and destroyed.

The many treaties that were created between the Native Americans and the U.S. were constantly violated, despite initial good intentions. The map below shows how Americans pushed the Native Americans westward further and further from their homelands, while new settlers expanded into these territories.

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Non-native Population Expansion, 1820 (Dark Red), 1850 (Rust), and 1890 (Yellow)

We welcomed the slow walk back to the hotel to ponder our thoughts from the day’s deep and sobering educational experiences.

Days 7-8: The NMAAHC, Capitol Hill, and the Museum for Women in the Arts

Many of the newer Washington D.C. attractions like the National Museum of African-American History require advanced tickets. I was glad I knew ahead of time, or I would have been disappointed. The stunning new building was designed by David Adjaye and is clad in filigree bronze screen panels.

After being guided down to the lower floor where slavery, civil war, and segregation topics were covered, we began our long difficult journey tracing and understanding the roots of African-American history.

Everyone was very quiet and pensive as we shared the tragic stories of Africans from mostly Central and Coastal West Africa being captured by Portuguese, Dutch, British, French and Danish slave traders. By around 1800, the importation of foreign slaves was banned. Rhode Island slave traders developed and dominated a thriving domestic trade.

Less than half of the captured Africans survived the journey to the Coast or the horrific slave ships. While approximately 500,000 slaves were brought to the States, a total of around 12 million slaves were captured in Africa and sold in the New World. The largest proportion were sent to the Caribbean or to Brazil.

As families were split up and sold, the humiliating auction blocks were used to showcase the black slaves. They were split up from families and loved ones, mothers from their babies. Both sides of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War used the issue of slavery as a strategy to rally supporters to their side. The British and Americans offered freedom to those slaves who fought in the Revolutionary Wars, and the North and the South also made promises to African Americans that often were not kept.

After slavery, it was difficult for African-Americans to survive the post-Civil war era. Many prominent leaders and heroes were featured, and there were many historic events and landmark decisions. Segregation displaced slavery and became another racist era.

The museum was split into the history and dark past on lower levels, and modern culture on upper levels. The NMAAHC offered insight and understanding of the arduous path of not only African-Americans, but the shared path of all Americans. You can read more about the museum’s collections here:  https://nmaahc.si.edu

The combination of these museums left a powerful imprint on my understanding and perspective of oppressed people in America. It seems more pertinent for all of us to learn about the history and development of oppression as race and religion become major issues in our current society.

The stretches between sights and buildings along the Washington Mall and Capitol Hill are far and wide, so good shoes and good planning are essential for surviving D.C. The Washington Metro provided some relief in getting between points, but the distances by foot are intimidating, even to veteran walkers like us. Thanks to L’Enfant and his grandiose French city planning scheme, the wide boulevards and diminished human scale do seem to put people in their places.

Well, the verdict is in. Yes, Washington D.C. is a pretty awesome place. I couldn’t help but compare the time lapse walking between buildings with that of Versailles. We got our royal injection thanks to L’Enfant. And I’m not sure whether the Kremlin and Red Square came first or we did (around 1800), but I’m guessing that National Mall beats Moscow’s in area. While we’re at it, it might be worth comparing Beijing’s Tian An Men Square and Forbidden City.  A research project for another day.

At the opposite end of the National Monument, above are just a few grand dames on Capitol Hill: the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress.

Above are one of three perfect copies of the Gutenberg Bible at the Library of Congress; and Cupcakes?!? (click on image to see captions and to increase scale)

Below: interior of ornate Italian Renaissance style Library of Congress. Almost stands up to or equal with the Library in Vienna. (To see the Vienna Library, search posting from Day 27 of 2015, dated Aug. 21)

A very understated but worthwhile visit to the Women’s Museum yielded some gems: a Frieda Kahlo Self-Portrait dedicated to Leon Trotsky, and friend Hung Liu’s noble portraits of women who were prostitutes. Gee Kin had trouble identifying five famous women artists, but managed to come up with these and Annie Liebowitz. Sure enough, she had a photo of Dolly Parton proudly on display.

There were numerous other interesting works there, but I felt sad that these great artists (including Berte Morisot and Mary Cassatt whose works were represented) and others (I didn’t see any Georgia O’Keefe) had to find a cause to be celebrated on their own and could not be integrated with the mainstream art world. Can you name five living women artists?

To top off the day at Momofuku DC: Honey Crisp with Arugula, Kimchee, and Maple Sugar; Skate Wing, and Chinese Broccoli with Cashews. Highly recommended.

Apologies for the long post.  Combined posts will reduce the load on your Inbox!

Days 3-4: A Beeline for the Highline and a New York State of Mind

A couple of years ago, I was introduced to the over-the-top experience on the Highline in the Meatpacking District of New York City. It didn’t take much convincing for me to want to retrace my steps again on this visit. The clever landscaping over a derelict elevated railway track, sumptious architecture and brilliant urban planning make the short two-mile long path an essential destination for both tourists and locavores alike. New outdoor art installations have been added since the first visit, and Zaha Hadid, a world-famous architect, has a signature building under construction on the north end. (She recently passed away.)

We made another beeline in the afternoon for Brooklyn. In a posting last month, our Brooklyn buddy researched the Uzbeki-Korean Cafe Lily for us. The hour-long ride to and from Brooklyn was no sweat compared to flying back and forth to Uzbekistan for kimchee and kebabs in one fell swoop.

Thanks to the favorable review from the NY Times in February and an eyewitness account (see the special correspondent report from the February 2017 post), we were not disappointed. Okay, it was after 2pm when we descended on an empty restaurant, but hey–it was open for business.

After a deliciously simple cucumber and tomato salad, perfectly flavored and crisply fresh (exactly as I  remembered the food in Uzbekistan), we slurped beef soup, prepared at the table with condiments, and tickled our palettes with a teeny lamb kebab. The highlight was an entire fried branzino for $15! The whole meal barely topped $50. This was the antidote to gourmet dining.

In Uzbeki food, simple cooking allows the inherent freshness of each ingredient to be sensed and savored with each bite. The Mediterranean emphasis is evident, but subtle. I noticed the care taken in preparing each slice or morsel of food when I visited Tashkent. Samarkand, and Bokhara (Oriental carpet namesakes) on my first world trip. Even though it is Eurasia’s version of California’s Central Valley, Uzbekistan does not seem to take food production lightly. Maybe it’s the depletion of nearby Lake Aral where the water was used inefficiently for cotton growing, or just historical frugality. Uzbekis seem to cherish each and every fruit and vegetable they grow with love and kindness.

Our day was topped off by a third and final beeline to a Billy Joel concert at the mighty Madison Square Garden. Going there was already an experience itself. Watching the living songwriter/master pianist/singer/quintessential entertainer deliver a straight two hour performance without an break was a phenomenon in itself!  It doesn’t take the Metopera to be the pinnacle of civilization. Only the best of the best–like Billy Joel.

Here’s a short clip of the stunning performance with a birdseye view from the rafters:

The next day we visited the Han Dynasty exhibit at the Metropolitan. Here are a few of the many excellent pieces on display.

We’re off to Washington D.C. today, so more museums to come….

Days 61-63: Kusatsu Hot Springs, Japan

I’ve been following a few blogs every now and then. Not often, rather infrequently, just out of curiosity, and to see the style of postings. Mine tend to be pretty straightforward, while I find many blogs pontificate, pyschoanalyze, or philosophize about the meaning of life. I am not trained to do any of those, so I try to steer clear. However, today brought new meaning to life. Staying in a real ryokan, or Japanese style inn, has renewed my ability to appreciate and understand life. That’s a pretty tall order, considering the whirlwind of activities that I have thrust myself into over the past couple of months. But slowing down and being in an exquisitely beautiful area has given me cause to pause and reflect.

Good things come to those who wait. I guess it’s hard to see all the offerings life has before each of us. As we grow older, we are able to differentiate and discriminate. Many think that growing old is a sad process but I am finding it to be uplifting–not always, but the quality of what we see is so different. Once you have perspective on many experiences, you draw from them and can detect what is bitter and what is sweet.

We should have realized what an occasion coming to Kusatsu Hot Springs was going to be. Once we arrived at the bus terminus from the train station (3 hours travel west from Tokyo by 2 bullet trains), we asked the information counter how to reach our hotel. All I had was an address in Japanese. We asked if we could walk there. “Of course,” said the receptionist. “But I can call the hotel and they will come to pick you up. Just have a seat in the lounge and they will find you shortly”. Sure enough, within 5 minutes an older gentleman appeared to whisk us in a van to the hotel about 5 minutes away. Now that’s what I call service.

From the arrival at the entrance to the ryokan, we knew it was going to be special. Soft voices, infinite courtesies, and true hospitality catch our attention. Maybe after Russia and even Mongolia we are sensitive to the manner in which humans greet each other. Not so much the degree of warmth as the presence or absence of it.

The Japanese have the hospitality covered. In this case, it’s a business. But so are the Marriotts and the Goyo Travels (our guide company in Mongolia) and the Zemzuchinas (our hotel in Vladivostok). Everyone makes the effort, but no one knows respect for the customer like what we are getting here.

We were shown to our Japanese style room. Every detail in the room is exquisite–from the carved and lacquered wooden post that trace the inherent knots and wood grain, to the miniaturized proportions and tea service in the room. Every detail is taken into consideration. I don’t know where I heard this before but the thought of “economy, purpose and delight” come to mind.

After casing out every joint (literally, the choice of thickness for wood trim, the depth of niches, the size off doors, the thinness of wood recess handles, etc etc, we tore ourselves out of the room and to the house baths. The hot springs eternal here. As one of the many features, you go to separate quarters for men and women to wash down , then soak in tepid splendor.

Our dinner, with the complete set (see menu), was another version of perfection. I’m not sure how you can produce and consume every item on a menu but they produced and we consumed. They only thing we could do afterwards was roll over and flop into bed from overconsumption. Bad for the heart but great for the head. Anthony Bourdain was right to say the best food in the world is Japanese.

The early morning concert of birds reminded me of how Japan is or was, a tropical island. The wide leafed bamboo, lotus roots, and array of bird life are evidence. The Japanese not only have nature in their DNA, but in their history. It leaves me very envious that the Chinese were not as able to inhale the environment the way the Japanese have. Despite the disarming blight everywhere, the shibui or exquisite beauty seems to well compensate for the shortcomings.

Finally, a brief visit to the art gallery adjacent to the hotel reinforced Japanese compatibility with the sublime modern:

A Note on Travels with Myself and Others

I have been pondering my recent travels. They seem to gravitate on the 38th parallel north or somewhere between 35-40 degrees latitude. It’s not an accident that the San Francisco Bay Area (I was born in Oakland, across the bay), lies on this imaginary line. I probably mentioned that a year or two ago when I traveled along the Silk Road in Uzbekistan, and how everything felt so natural and comprehensible to me.

The beets, carrots, peas and potatoes were reminiscent of home. The Mediterranean climate is easy to get hitched to, but people do not associate it with further flung places like Beijing or Tokyo. The 38th parallel traces through of course Greece, Italy and Turkey, but also parts of China and Japan, Iraq, Iran, and Uzbekistan.

Granted, the culture and weather are different, but I still regard these environments as hospitable and liveable. You can read more about the countries along the 38th degree north here:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/38th_parallel_north.

The Japanese have an infinite respect and appreciation of the environment. It is highly cultivated, but created for the enjoyment of all. They are natural at landscape design, architecture, and planning. Nothing less than awesome is what I’ve just witnessed on a brief morning walk behind the ryokan. This post is for you, Sara and Jim (my professors at Berkeley, to whom I am eternally grateful), and all my Japanese friends).

I have been contemplating what’s next. I’ve toyed with the idea of visiting countries along the ring of fire, but I haven’t convinced myself just yet. Alternatively, I considered tackling the countries along the 38th parallel south. To my dismay, it touches two countries where I have already been: Australia and New Zealand. That leaves Chile and Argentina on the list.

For a video on Vladivostok, click here:https://youtu.be/_i4E0wh-b9k

Day 32: Jewels and Other Gems

The Scharf-Gerstenberg Collection across from the Charlottenburg Palace is dedicated to Surrealism, fantasy, or disturbing ideas of the mind. Many famous painters, such as Picasso, Modigliani, Magritte, Max Ernst, and Klee are displayed in this beautiful gallery.

Photos above:

  1. Upper left: Chapel Quaking, Paul Klee, 1924: This painting shows ominous, other-worldly elements in the sky about to attack the chapel and loosen its foundations
  2. Upper Middle:  the dome of the gallery
  3. Our guide, Dr. Barbara Hofmann, animated in her passionate interpretation of the surrealist art. I couldn’t help but wonder if she knew she was mirroring her subject (Olympia, by Jean Dubuffet, 1950). The body is a rendition of Manet’s Olympia. The artist challenged the regimented standards of the Academy of Arts. Artists at the time rebelled against the Academy, who determined what was or wasn’t considered art.
  4. Carceri, by Piranesi, 1760
  5. A description of Surreal Spaces

In the afternoon, Rainer Jaeshke (from the Potsdam weekend tour) led us to Kreuzberg, one of the popular, East side districts of Berlin. Because it was taken over in the Sixties by squatters, the bourgeois buildings from the turn of the century went into demise. As the housing deteriorated, it became a cheap area where immigrants and the rapidly expanding population could afford to live. The area has become a battleground between developers hoping to make return on investments and neighborhood activists who want to keep the housing affordable and community intact.

Photos above,  from left to right:

  1. Oberbaum Bridge, 1895
  2. Modern day high density housing built over a road
  3. Jewish brass tiles found on a neighborhood street, indicating Jewish presence from the past
  4. An overview of the dividing line between East and West Berlin and canal that is now a park

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A photo from “Jewels” by Choreographer George Balanchine, who created a ballet in the neoclassical style with music from Tchaichowsky and Stravinsky.

The Concert House presented a lovely program of music by Darius Milhaud, “The Creation of the World”; Prokofiev’s “Symphony No. 7 in C Major”; and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures from and Exhibition”. Under guest conductor Dmitri Kitajenko’s direction, every piece was stirring, uplifting and good enough to want to hear again.